Life is often about steps. You have to learn to walk before you can run. You have to learn to talk before you can sing. You have to learn to play “Chopsticks” before you play a Beethoven sonata on the piano. Life is often about baby steps. I know that if I had a goal of participating in an ultra-marathon (100 miles or 160km.) then I would not want to wake up tomorrow attempting to run 100 miles.
I would want to first ensure that I am getting the proper nutrition, and to be in relatively good health before I exercise more. There may have been steps that occurred before you realized that you suffered from social anxiety. Or, perhaps you acquired this in a very brief period of time. Regardless, there are steps that can help you recover from having social anxiety.
Do not worry about doing all of these steps (although the more you can do, the better) and do not worry about doing all of these steps in order (although attempting the tips in the last section before attempting those in the first section probably means that you do not have–or have just a mild form of–social anxiety) as there are no hard and fast steps. Each thing that you do accomplish, though, will help you to reintegrate with friends and society.
Compile a list
Although I have just written that there is no order to these steps, and although I have not yet suffered from social anxiety (knock on wood)–although I prefer not to speak in public–I have found that the first thing to do in significant events is to write things down.
Write down the situations, people and places for which you feel anxious. This is not only helpful in objectively identifying and overcoming your reactions to these instances but also a form of therapy in which you can discuss things without fear of judgement. Categorize them from the least intimidating to the most anxiety-ridden.
Set small objectives (baby steps) for each thing on the list. For example, if you have a great fear of speaking in public then you may want to write that you will first write out a speech, and then to practice it in front of a full-length mirror.
Why are you anxious? Because you are nervous. Why are you nervous? Because you have lack of confidence in yourself and/or the result that you want. The way to counteract this is through
1) Practicing relaxation techniques. Meditation, yoga, tai chi, deep breathing, self-hypnosis and other things that can help you get and maintain the calm necessary for the challenges ahead. Some of these may require participating in classes. If you are not ready for them (such as doing yoga properly) then try others (such as deep breathing), or watch videos of yoga techniques.
2) Play a song or songs. I know that whenever I need cheering up I play a list of my favorite songs; this always works for me.
3) Try a new look or appearance. I still remember that when I was in high school there was a young woman in my English class. During Christmas vacation, she changed her hairstyle and her wardrobe. I do not remember exactly how she was before, but she suddenly became very popular, and she seemed to be more engaging.
4) Retrain your brain Put up Post-Its, or sticky notes, wherever you can in which you write, “I am happy”, “I am a worthy and capable person”, Emile Coue’s favorite “Everyday, in every way, I am getting better and better” or anything else that will inspire you.
5) Analyze the reasons for your fear. You have already, hopefully, done this when you compiled the list. Regardless of whether or not you have done this, it is important to understand the root cause or origination of your fear or fears.
6) Realize that not everyone is judging you. My wife does not suffer from social anxiety or phobia–in fact, she is extremely sociable and talks even to strangers. However, if people are talking softly then she often feels that they are talking about her and if I “look” or “appear” a certain way then she may think that I am angry with her, when there is no evidence to support these conclusions.
7) Be prepared, especially in terms of speaking in public. Learn your speech and practice the mannerisms in front of a mirror, and make good notes on flash cards. Making eye contact is generally a good thing to do to make a speech effective and engaging, but that may be too big a step at this point. You do want to be successful so that you can add to your confidence and begin to remove your anxiety..
Tackling the list
Now that you have compiled a list, it is now time to face your fears and accomplish those goals. At the same time, realize when things may be too big for you to chew at a time. If you want to visit your Aunt but do not feel ready to travel then postpone it or take other baby steps (email, phone or Skype her) in the interim.
A very good technique is to be spontaneous or to act crazy or wild in public, especially if you are in a big city. You will then realize that people do not place much concern in that, and that you are free to be yourself, without judgement.
Visit a therapist
The first person you should see, other than family and close friends, is a therapist. The therapist should be one who can prescribe needed and appropriate medication, while guiding you away from your anxiety. You should seek out one who is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy.
Expand your social network, surround yourself with supporters, and join classes (perhaps a public speaking class which will help you to be a more effective speaker, which will help you gain confidence, which will lessen your anxiety, which will help you to be an even more effective speaker.